Saturday, August 08, 2015

The Cubsaw

Not following the Chicago Cubs every day, I find it difficult to pin down why they are so hot right now.  They are a very young team and though there may be future stars on the roster, it's hard to say who they are.  Maybe it's chemistry between the manager and young players, but they've won 9 out of 10, and the Pirates as well as now the Giants (big time) have been among their victims.  The Giants just lost three straight to them, and will have their hands full to salvage the fourth game on Sunday.

What ails the Giants is easier to see.  On this current road trip, their hitting has been good to excellent, and their fielding has been excellent to spectacular.  Their bullpen has been so-so, but their starting rotation has just fallen apart.  Somebody came up with an amazing stat--that the starters have failed to get an out in the fifth inning.  Chris Heston faltered, Ryan Vogelsong pressed back into starting duty was shaky and Matt Cain was terrible on Saturday--only superior defense (especially by Brandon Crawford) and luck kept him in the game for the first two innings.

As for the bullpen, it's notable that Bochy--while holding out hope for Cain to regain his winning ways--commented that Cassia seemed to have lost his concentration.  The runs he gave up in the 8th were the difference in the game.

The crisis in the starting pitching rotation became acute when Mike Leake went on the DL after pitching but one game for the Giants since the trade.  With Hudson and Lincecum already on the DL, the starter crisis became a bullpen crisis, as there are no long relievers left, with Vogelsong a starter.

Losing to the Cubs is especially meaningful since if the Giants fail to win the division, they will likely contend with the Cubs for the second Wild Card.  Fortunately, the Dodgers have lost twice to the Pirates--the Bucs are near invincible at home--and so the division race could be a lot worse.  (On the other hand, the Giants will soon head for Pittsburgh; the Pirates swept them in San Francisco, plus the aforementioned invincibility at home.)

Things could turn around for the Giants, once everyone is healthy (if that ever happens this year), and the young Cubs could just as easily go on a 10 game losing streak.  But unquestionably they are one of the hot teams at the moment, along with the Mets and Toronto.   Getting hot at this stage could mean that the team is clicking and knows how to sustain it, or it just might be a streak.

Same with losing streaks. Washington is on one, and may be self-destructing; there was always that potential, as there still is with the Dodgers.  There's lots of baseball yet, and the Giants have a lot of good things going--especially (of all things) hitting.  (They're also wasting one of Brandon Belt's power hitting streaks, which don't usually last.) They've got the best infield in baseball with the best depth defensively.  But in ways unanticipated, the generally anticipated problem of starting pitching (which just a week ago seemed almost solved) is their Achilles tendon.

I still marvel at the way relief pitching is handled these days.  I know I grew up in a different era, but this universal practice of using a parade of relievers for one inning or even one batter, in nearly every game, just doesn't make sense to me.  The law of averages suggests that the more pitchers you use, the more likely it is that one of them isn't going to be very effective that day.  But if one is clearly dominant and having a great day, he is still replaced the next inning because, well, that's how it's done.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Don't Panik

For the second straight night in Atlanta, the San Francisco Giants scored 8 runs, but this time they won 8-3, with an 8th inning rally of four runs.  After the Giants squandered another lead, they got two straight doubles to tie it up again.  Atlanta elected to intentionally walk Posey to get to Hunter Pence.  It didn't work.  Pence hit a three-run homer.  Only so many times he's going to hit into a double play in this situation.

He did that with the bases loaded to end the last game against Texas, the first of two losses of the kind that give restless nightmares to Giants fans, if not the players.  But the worse loss was the first game in Atlanta, when the Giants bullpen gave up three leads to lose in the 12th 9-8.

I know as a Giants fan I'm supposed to hate the Dodgers most of all, and as a Pirates fan it's St. Louis these days.  But I've been a Pirates fan a long time and I learned to hate Atlanta above all.  I also won't use their racist team name.

In the second game of the series on Tuesday, Matt Duffy had another 4 hit night, including driving in the tying run in the 8th.  The Giants and associated media are promoting him for NL rookie of the year, and he's certainly the Giants' rookie of the year.  Other good news: Aoki and Adrianza are hitting, and Jake Peavy continues to pitch well--he threw a lot of pitches for six innings but had 8 strikeouts and gave up just one run. He deserved the win but the bullpen again blew the save.

But this may all be outweighed by the bad news, at least if it continues: Joe Panik is on the disabled list with back problems of mysterious origin.  Just as the Giants were getting healthy, this is a significant blow.  You don't lose a .300 hitter and a superior infielder without consequences.

The Giants had injuries all last year and backed into the playoffs--really, lucked into the playoffs--and every season is all new, so it could happen again.  But their playoff hopes may depend on Joe.  Though Panik may not be as essential as Pence and Posey have proven to be, he's probably close.  They can win without Pagan, and so far this year, they mostly had to.

The Tuesday night game hurt too because it all fell apart with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, when closer Casilla, who was shaky and has been recently, gave up a gopher ball, two strikes from victory.  The only reliever who looked sharp was Romo, but apparently the scheme trumps game reality (or maybe it was just that Romo was overworked lately) but not bringing him back for the 9th turns out to have been much of the story.

The third game in the series Wednesday was set up to be the prime pitchers' duel. Those are always 50-50 chances, just as the series is evenly split.  The Giants are the better team, but their best chance of winning the series on the road may have passed.